Prior to Jan. 1, The last time a Clemson defense was embarrassed under defensive coordinator Brent Venables came at Georgia in 2014.
Todd Gurley and the Georgia running game ran wild that afternoon in Athens, especially in the second half. Gurley, now in the NFL, ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-21 rout of the Tigers. The Bulldogs rushed for 328 yards as they physically dominated the Tigers’ defense.
How did Clemson’s defense respond in 2014?
They did not forget about it. They used it as motivation. The Tigers took out their frustrations against everyone else they played, allowing them to end the season with the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense in terms of total yards allowed.
A Clemson defense had not been that physically dominated in a game until this past New Year’s Day when Ohio State embarrassed the Tigers in a 49-28 loss in the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes did really whatever they wanted to on offense, including 254 rushing yards.
Running back Trey Sermon ran over Clemson like a tank does its opposition in the field of battle. The Tigers wanted nothing to do with big back as he rushed for 193 yards and scored a touchdown, while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
Ohio State, who will play Alabama in Monday’s national championship game, finished the night in New Orleans with 639 yards, the most yards allowed by a Clemon defense in a bowl game.
“You use these moments as motivation,” Clemson linebacker Mike Jones said after the game. “The way you feel after a heartbreaking loss, that has to be what drives you. That is what drives me. I hate this feeling and I don’t ever want to feel it again.”
Coincidently, the next opportunity Jones and the Clemson defense will get to make up for their efforts in the Sugar Bowl will be against Georgia. The Tigers and Bulldogs will meet on Sept. 4, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to open the 2021 season.
“So, I am going to work. This whole group is going to work. The whole team is going to work,” Jones said. “We have to make sure we don’t feel like this anymore.”
The Buckeyes scored five straight touchdowns on a Clemson defense that came into the Sugar Bowl ranked in the top 11 in scoring defense and top six in total defense. The Tigers were also the fifth best rushing defense until Ohio State ran over and through them all night long in New Orleans.
“We just have to feel it right now. Maintain it. Hold on to it and think about this moment as we go into this off-season and on this journey,” Jones said.